Only My Opinions

Our True Identity – Who We Are

The mystery of life

It was a Thursday, the 18th of July, 1918; somewhere in the eastern Cape, in a small village called Mvezo, when a little boy was born. He would grow be a leader of great renown throughout the world, revered by both friend and foe alike. At his birth, no one knew for sure what would become of him as his journey through life began, other than just the goodwill and hope that often accompanies the birth of any child – especially in the heart of a parent.

In search of self

To not know who we are, is a great thing in motivating us to find out. There are not many things in life more painful than knowing we could achieve something great and yet never tried. The quest to understand who we are and life in general, sets each one of us on a lifelong journey of discovery and wonder – ever hoping that we would one day come to perceive life as an opportunity to recreate more of itself and experience its beauty in every little thing in which it is embodied; than a time-based, nihilistic meander into the abyss of oblivion.

Our true self can only be found by searching within our minds and bodies, as well as around ourselves, in the physical world we live in. We learn to walk and begin to travel widely to see more of the world. We meet people, we create situation and live through them. We traverse our world with both the mind and body and learn enough to declare to ourselves, at some point, that we have grown.

Our growth is experienced in both our physical and meta-physical aspects of our being – body and mind. We become ever aware that we are no longer the same people we were before we encountered the situations that have transformed us. This newness is felt even when we are not so sure who we really used to be, or what we have become, because who we are at any point in time, is much more than we could ever describe using only the experiences of the current situation. To know ourselves requires, instead, that we recall every single way in which we have ever identified ourselves in any one situation of life – past and present. Only then would we be closer to describing the essence of human identity.

Birds of a feather

Nelson Mandela was a son of two parents – a man and a woman. He grew up poor, but he ultimately became rich. He became a lawyer in order to defend those who would stand accused in a court of law. He must have known little of the fact that he himself would one day stand accused under the same law that he sought to defend others from, and would need someone else to defend him.

He was accused of high crimes of sabotage and conspiracy to overthrow a government. Such crimes that caused some to label him a terrorist. Others called him a communist, because some of his best friends were great proponents of the ideology. After all, what open minded individual would spend a long time with people who espouse a different ideology, without developing some streak of sympathy for their cause? He was an accomplice to all his co-accused and for that reason, it could be said that he embodied whatever each of them was accused of, because birds of a feather flock together, right? – very true!

At home he had a wife and children, which made him both a husband and a father. He had friends from different backgrounds, ranging from the downtrodden and very poor; the0020pious; traditionalist; nationalists; dictators, capitalist, right through to the very presidential and most royal – among them, his captors.

Mutual understanding

Whenever we encounter strangers in life, whether a person or situation; we initially tend to assume a pensive disposition, borne of a limited understanding of who we are encountering. A need to understand them better begins to develop, based on the need to know how best to ‘be’ with them. We engage reluctantly with them, ever learning more of who they are from as much as they can express their thoughts to us, until the point where we have enough understanding of who they are in relation to ourselves, which makes it possible for a friendship to develop.

A friendship is a result of honest communication during which we find areas of mutual interest, which then become the basis for cooperation. For that reason, every person and situation that we encounter in life, shares themselves with us. Our ability to find resonance with them, comes from the mutual sympathy that we develop for each other’s cause, by which we become them as they become us.

Living through situations

Through the 95 years of his life, in which he encountered many people and lived through a variety of situations, Nelson Mandela had to change in various ways for him to adjust to both the people and times of his life. More than just the changes in his physical body as he grew up; the greatest changes to him were in the ever-changing situations that he as a person had to live through with both his mind and body. Each new situation that he encountered, got him to search within himself even more, to look for the best means he had of living through it. By doing so, he discovered – at each point in his life – abilities he previously did not know he had, which enabled him to play the different roles that he did in his life – roles that come with situations.

With hindsight, Mandela became all the things he encountered, that have influenced him; and in turn, each of them became him in the different ways that he influenced them. A situation of life, together with the people who live through it, cannot be described adequately, without factoring in the description the impact that each person in that situation has had on it. Mandela became a lawyer who later became a defendant in a court of law; a terrorist who turned into a statesman; a prisoner who turned into a president; a traitor and saboteur who ultimately became a patriot and nation builder. Mandela could not be known, except by recalling who he was in the places where he had been.

Who we truly are

How we identify ourselves in a specific situation of life, as a man for instance, is only a snapshot of who we are in the totality of our beings. In each situation we assume a role that we regard as most appropriate to achieve the goal we have set for that moment. When I am with my child, I assume the role of a father in as much as I have defined it for myself. It becomes the primary role of my being in that situation with my child, and for that reason, it become my identity for that moment. The identity changes later on when I am with my sibling; where I assume the primary role of a brother, according to how I have defined it for myself. If someone were to ask me in a situation with my brother as to who I am, the answer would be that I am a brother to my sibling. However, if the question were to be rephrased to ask who I am in this life – the defining identity for my life – then the answer would have to involve every situation in which I have lived in my life, including my current role as a brother. In that way, I am everything I have ever been.

Sometimes we are required to be communists, sometimes capitalists, followers, liberal, musician or orthodox. Our identity changes as we adapt ourselves to the situations of our everyday lives. For that reason, one person could become many things, based on the different roles they play at different times. We use a specific tone of voice when we speak to various people in order to achieve a specific result. We wear different hats and uniforms to denote the roles we play in various situations. From the moment we wake up right until we go to sleep, every role that we assume such as a father; mother; husband; nurse; leader; middle class; sinner; angry or scientist, is only a part of who we are, but not the totality of our identity. As a being, we are all the things we have ever encountered, because of how each of them has influenced us.

We are the people we meet; the discussions we engage in; the thoughts we entertain as well as the ones we shun. We are everything we ever seek to strike a harmonious balance with. We are what the cow, the pig and the fish eat, as well as what fertilizes the soil on which all our food grow, because all of them make the food we eat possible. We are the air we breathe, the water we drink and the earth upon which everything we need for our nourishment depends. For as long as we believe that we would die, if it was not for our dependence on what the earth could grow and provide, then for that long we are one with our planet – Earth.


To forgive is to perceive ourselves; another person or a situation of life beyond what we have chosen to become at that moment. It is to see this very moment as a part of many other moments of our lives, and to accept that whatever form this moment takes, is not a true reflection of who we really are or what the situation or another person really is but simply, a part of something bigger than itself. The bigger reality of life is life itself, in its broader sense, and our identity in it is determined by this broader scope of life. For as long as the things we need in the fulfilment of life are found in various situations of life, it would not make sense to hold ourselves to any specific situation. This would cause us to forgo the rest of ourselves, which essentially would be our demise.

When we call ourselves angry, bad, poor, intelligent or anything, in ways that have an air of permanence in it, we continue to misidentify ourselves with just a strand of who we truly are, thereby refusing the need to move on to realise more of ourselves. Nelson Mandela was not just the president of South Africa, the same way that no person is one particular situation of their lives. There is more to who he is, beyond how we defined him as an icon of national liberation; the same way that each of us is more than what we believe we are. It is then upon each one of us, to look for and find their true identity beyond any one situation of our lives. The fullness of life, in which is the fullness of our abilities and our happiness, is beyond the comfort zones we live in and defend every day, but in our oneness with each other and every aspect of creation.  – GEM

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